'I did it for the 'Gram': Why this Instagram star revealed her mental health struggle
Caitlin Fladager became Internet famous for her picture perfect life, but felt like a fraud
When Caitlin Fladager posted her first photo on her Instagram she had no idea how many people would one day be following her, or the toll it would take.
"I was 18 and I was about 15 weeks pregnant with my daughter," said Fladager, now 25. "I liked posting pictures of my belly. I just liked sharing it for myself to remember and for my family who lives far away, and people kept following me from there."
As her belly grew so did her following. She started getting recognized when she was out grocery shopping. Today the Abbotsford, BC mother of two is Internet famous, with more than 750,000 followers across her social media platforms.
"I got well-known for my life looking perfect," said Fladager. But behind the scenes the young mom was struggling with her mental health, and maintaining the illusion of perfection was making it worse.
Scrolling through her social media, it's easy to see why complete strangers followed along as the young woman's life unfolded.
Caitlin and her then boyfriend, Noah Slomski, started dating when they were 16 and 15 respectively. She documented and shared their relationship as it went from goofy teenage selfies to loving teenage parents when their daughter, Ariana was born two years after they met.
Fans celebrated with heart-eyed emojis when the high school sweethearts married in 2014, and when their son Jack was born in 2015. Companies came calling offering her between $500 to $3000 to post about their products on Instagram.
Fladager admits she liked the attention, but along with supporters, Internet trolls also actively commented on her pages and sent her nasty messages. Haters posted about her several times a day on forums like 'YouTube Momma Drama'.
"I like to please everybody and that made it very difficult for me," said Fladager. "It was hard to accept the fact that not everybody is going to like me and that was something I really struggled with."
Social media and mental health
A 2017 study done by the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK looked at the impact of various social media platforms on the mental health of young people.
Results of that survey of 1500 youth showed that Instagram had the most negative impact on the mental health of users. The focus on images, many highly manipulated and heavily curated, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.
Fladager doesn't blame social media for her depression, but admits that spending so much time online didn't help. Looking at other people's feeds made her feel inadequate, and maintaining her own public image left her feeling like a fraud.
Pressure to post
At the height of her depression Fladager recalls dragging herself out of bed, putting on fake eyelashes and hair extensions, and dressing up so she could take a photo to post, then immediately taking everything off and returning to bed.
"I wasn't going anywhere, I didn't feel like doing my makeup. I just did it for the 'Gram," said Fladager. "That's what you see when you go onto Instagram. Especially when you have a lot of followers, you feel a lot of pressure to post content people want to see, and what they wanted to see at that time, I thought, was perfection."
Fladager said she thought about shutting down her social media accounts all the time, but posting about her life online was how she made money.
"I needed a way to support my kids," said Fladager. "You can't just quit your job when it gets hard."
Her family started noticing signs of depression and her marriage broke down. Five year old Ariana asked her mom why she was so tired all the time. That's when Fladager decided to start therapy. "I was like, my five year old is noticing this. I need to get help."
Not only did Fladager start therapy, but she recently decided to share her struggles with her followers and pull back the curtain on what was really going on behind all those picture perfect posts.
Last year she shared a photo of herself with her medication and told followers she was struggling. Fladager said she couldn't look at her phone for hours after posting.
"I was having a mini anxiety attack," said Fladager. "I thought that people were going to say that I was pathetic, and that I was lying to them the whole time. But it was completely the opposite."
Fladager continues to share her life on Instagram and other social media platforms, but regularly posts photos and messages that shows the difference between a highly curated image and real life.
"My mental health has taken a toll, but now that I'm a lot more honest it's a lot better," said Fladager.
Many followers appreciate her openness and authenticity as she works to find balance as an influencer, mom and co-parent after separating from Slomski.
"You need to have a love for yourself, and a love for your life," said Fladager. "That's not on other people, it's on you."